- New research has found that working from home has created a boom in weekday golfing.
- While remote workers are hitting the green on weekday afternoons, productivity isn't dropping.
- That's good news for leisure businesses and shows remote work has changed people's work structures.
"Don't people have jobs? Why is it so busy out today?" one TikToker lip-syncs in a video while holding an iced coffee. The caption that reads, "Me, a 9-5 corporate working woman, at Sephora at 2:24 PM on a Thursday."
That TikToker is not alone, as anyone who's had a friend or loved one working remotely can attest to. When work can be contained to a pocket-sized phone or a few jiggles of a mouse to prove you're active, it can theoretically be done anywhere.
It's turned the many American workers who are still in remote or hybrid roles into the professional version of college students: The days and afternoons are fair game for leisure or errands (or naps), and work can be done, much like a library all-nighter, during off-hours.
"The simple story is on work-from-home days, it's a great opportunity to do things like go to the dentist, play golf, go shopping when it's quiet," Nick Bloom, a Stanford University economist whose research on remote work spans nearly 20 years, told Insider.
New research from Bloom and his colleague Alex Finan found that working from home created what they called "a huge boom in golfing." Using car GPS data from Inrix and a map of 3,400 golf courses across the US, they were able to track when and how many people visited the greens from April 2019 to November 2022.
The results: More people were golfing overall, and the number of them doing it on weekday afternoons increased by 83% from August 2019 to August 2022. Wednesdays at 4 p.m. — right when workers are finally facing the back end of the workweek — was the peak time for weekday golfing. While the study focused solely on golf, the researchers said they believed people were likely using that time for other "leisure activities," like going to the gym, playing sports, or shopping.
While some companies have called employees back to the office, Bloom doesn't think remote work is going anywhere. The share of work being conducted from home has fallen from its peak of roughly 60% in 2020 to roughly 27% today, Bloom's research found. He said he expected it to stabilize around 25%.
All those remote workers hitting the green doesn't necessarily mean people are working less. The "adult-student" economy could be a boon for services spending and for productivity.
"If employees remain productive, this indeed could be good," Bloom and Finan wrote. "Golf courses are getting higher usage by spreading playing across the day and week, avoiding weekend and pre-, post-work peak loading. This will raise 'Golf productivity' — the number of golf courses played (and revenue raised) per course."
Workers aren't less productive than they were before the pandemic, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis' indicator. While labor productivity cooled off a bit in the first quarter of 2022 as the economy settled into its pandemic recovery, it grew in the last two quarters of 2022. Workers are working — just maybe not regular 9-to-5 hours.
Afternoons of leisure could end up being good for companies and a double-edged sword for workers
While not every afternoon golfer or shopper is working extra hours later to make up for it, Bloom's research suggests many people are doing just that.
"We see work-from-home employees shift hours away from the working day when they work from home and into evenings and weekends," he said, adding: "Much like students choose to spread work out — rather than just work 9 to 5 on Monday to Friday — employees are also choosing to spread work out."
Microsoft's researchers dubbed it the "triple-peak day" after spotting an uptick in Microsoft Teams chats between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. when the pandemic began. That's in addition to the two traditional "productivity peaks" — before and after lunchtime.
This blurring of one's work and personal lives might not leave all workers better off, though. Some have had a difficult time establishing work-life boundaries and are working more than they did when they were in an office. Of course, some workers have never had the luxury of working from home or are increasingly getting called back, meaning that they won't get to experience weekday leisure.
US remote workers saved an average of 55 minutes by avoiding their daily commutes, a research paper Bloom coauthored found, but put some of this time saving toward work.
So that time on the golf course could be a double-edged sword, as any college student who's partied on a weeknight can confirm: That hole in one might mean another hour working late.
"I think my colleague was taking his Zoom call from the golf course," a tech executive in Palo Alto, California, told the researchers. "He was on mute and video off, but once when he was talking, I heard somebody talking about the fairway and strokes."